Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category
Reflections on what makes us who we are.
(This is a two-part post, with the concluding part tomorrow.)
My father was born on June 15th, 1901.
Here is a photograph taken of him on his twenty-first birthday.
He was an architect for Barclay Perkins & Co., a London firm of brewers. Here are the opening words of the Wikipedia entry.
The Anchor Brewery was an English brewery located in Southwark, London. Established in 1616, by the early nineteenth century it was the largest brewery in the world. From 1781 it was operated by Barclay Perkins & Co, who merged with Courage in 1955. The brewery was demolished in 1981.
I was born in November, 1944 and at the start of the school year in September 1956, me aged eleven, I started in the first term of Preston Manor County Grammar School near Preston Road, Wembley, just a few miles from where we all lived. (Mother, father, me and Elizabeth, my younger sister by four years.) Frankly, I had been regarded as a bit of a dreamer at my primary school and more than a few were surprised that I passed the ’11+’ exams, a prerequisite for attending a grammar school in those days.
I became twelve-years-old in November, 1956. Just six weeks after my twelfth birthday, on the evening of December 19th, 1956, my mother, as normal, came into my bedroom to kiss me goodnight. However, what transpired was very far from normal.
For she sat down on the edge of the bed and told me that my father was not well and may not live for much longer. To this day, I can still see her sitting on the edge of the bed, adjacent to my knees covered by the sheet and bedcover, a very drawn look on her face.
I had been aware of my father being at home in bed for a while but had no notion whatsoever, prior to this moment, that he was seriously unwell. In hindsight, it was more than I could emotionally embrace for not only did I not go back into my parent’s bedroom and again say goodnight to my father, I went off to sleep without any problem.
During that night, in the early hours of December 20th, my father died, the family doctor attended and my father’s body was removed; I slept through it all and awoke in the morning to find my father gone.
Now fast forward just a few years.
It’s too long ago now for me to recall who it was who gave me my father’s fountain pen that he used on a daily basis when he was alive. It is a Sheaffer Crest Snorkel with a 14K gold Triumph nib with a platinum plated tip.
I have had the pen for nearly sixty years and treasure it, as you can imagine. But in recent times it was not functioning properly and I put it down to old age, and transferred to a modern pen.
By a wonderful stroke of luck I recently came across an American company, Pendemonium, who restore and service a wide range of pens, including Sheaffer pens of the age of my father’s pen; that particular model first was produced in 1952.
On Saturday, the restored Sheaffer pen was sent back to me. It is a real joy to find that it writes so well and remains a living memory of my father from so long ago.
Now all you dear readers must be wondering just what on earth I’m rambling on about!
My answer will be offered in Part Two that will be posted tomorrow.
But I will give you a clue.
See you tomorrow.
Possibly the most important lesson to be learnt from dogs.
As is the way, a number of separate happenings seemed to be ‘singing from the same song sheet’ in bringing about today’s post.
Earlier yesterday morning Jean and I had a meeting with the executive director of an important charity that is helping the many homeless and disadvantaged young persons in this part of Oregon. For example, Jean and I were told that there were 300-500 homeless teenagers in Josephine County alone (Josephine County is where our home is.)
One of the ideas that was floated in the conversation was how kids are so loving to animals and whether our dogs and horses might help.
Then later, when back home, I recalled that over two years ago I published a post called Sticks and stones.
It wasn’t a long post and is republished now.
Sticks and stones
I make no apologies for today’s post being more emotional and sentimental. The phrase ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me‘ is well known throughout the English-speaking world and surprisingly goes back some way. A quick web search found that in the The Christian Recorder of March 1862, there was this comment:
Remember the old adage, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me’. True courage consists in doing what is right, despite the jeers and sneers of our companions.
So if in 1862 the saying was referred to as an ‘old adage’ then it clearly pre-dated 1862 by some degree. A few days ago, Dusty M., here in Payson, AZ, sent me a short YouTube video called The Power of Words. I’m as vulnerable as the next guy to needing being reminded about what’s important in this funny old world.
Then I started mulling over the tendency for all of us to be sucked into a well of doom and gloom. Take my posts on Learning from Dogs over the last couple of days, as an example. There is no question that the world in which we all live is going through some extremely challenging times but anger and negativity is not going to be the answer. As that old reference spelt out so clearly, “True courage consists in doing what is right, despite the jeers and sneers of our companions.” So first watch the video,
then let me close by reminding us all that courage is yet something else we can learn from dogs.
In 1925, a ravaging case of diphtheria broke out in the isolated Alaskan village of Nome. No plane or ship could get the serum there, so the decision was made for multiple sled dog teams to relay the medicine across the treacherous frozen land. The dog that often gets credit for eventually saving the town is Balto, but he just happened to run the last, 55-mile leg in the race. The sled dog who did the lion’s share of the work was Togo. His journey, fraught with white-out storms, was the longest by 200 miles and included a traverse across perilous Norton Sound — where he saved his team and driver in a courageous swim through ice floes.
More about Togo another day.
One of the comments left to that post back in November, 2012 was from Virginia Hamilton. Her website, Canine Commandos, is about just that: dogs helping youngsters. This is what Virginia wrote:
Our sermon today was about sticks and stones which is perfect timing because my sixth graders are throwing words at each other and it is hurting. So I looked up the phrase and found you. We were shown the video in a faculty meeting and since you tie into dogs I was hoping to find “the answer.” When you look at the website you’ll see out community project where I have twenty schools training in three shelters. One would think that because these kids are so loving to the animals that they could pass that kindness to each other. Any words of wisdom? Also check this out. Thank you, Virginia.
Now I would be the first to admit that there’s a difference between a homeless young person and a gifted young person. Yet the difference may not be so great. In this one sense: that caring for an animal changes lives and what young people, from all backgrounds and circumstances, need to learn is the power of unconditional love.
Not just caring for dogs, horses and cats, by the way.
Serendipity strikes again!
I’ve written before about how our breath is connected with our wellbeing and emotional state. Noticing how we are breathing is a tool that we can use to monitor how we are doing.
There is another pause that comes with our breath which is also revealing. The pause at the end of the exhale before we take in more air. When we are distracted, stressed or in an anxious state, there is no pause. We don’t trust we have enough air and we don’t allow ourself to relax and let go.
Just take a moment to tune into how you are breathing right now. Just notice without judgment.
Pausing at the end of an exhale can only happen when we are relaxed and in tune with our mind and body. When our body and mind are aligned in the present moment.
I then left a reply in the comments section:
Excellent advice. For the last few weeks I have been using a biofeedback unit that through guiding one to breathe in harmony with a musical phrase allows one to slow the whole body down. Down to about 4.8 breaths per minute. It really underlines how slow one’s breathing rate can be and, supporting your post, the glorious pauses after each inhale and exhale.
And offered to write a post about the unit and my experiences. (Coming out tomorrow.)
However, what I wanted to do as a ‘lead-in’ to that post was to discover if there was any research into the benefits, as in scientific benefits, of slowing one’s body down in this fashion. What is surely nothing more than a form of meditation. Where to start looking? Needn’t have worried; there were many items on YouTube that covered the benefits of meditation.
There was a video from the AsapSCIENCE guys Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, but I found it too jazzy and irritating, rather ironically! Then there was one from physicist John Hagelin that seemed much more appropriate to my tastes (and that is featured tomorrow as well).
By now it was coming up to 4:30pm and I had a dozen other things to do, plus try and fit in a biofeedback session – I could feel the stress rising within me.
Then I dipped into Terry Hershey’s latest Sabbath Moment and, guess what! Here’s what I read:
Learning to let go
January 26, 2015
Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go. Herman Hesse
Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security. John Allen Paulos
When you let go of trying to get more of what you don’t really need, it frees up oceans of energy to make a difference with what you have. Lynne Twist
Today I am sitting in a café (and bar) in Vaison-la-Romaine, in the Provence region of France, nursing my espresso.
No, wait… that was last week.
It just sounds sexier than saying, “Today I’m looking out my window at a gloomy winter sky, here in the Pacific Northwest, with a Thesaurus in hand hoping for a gushing synonym for gray.”
Welcome home. Home for me is always awaited and valued, but still elicits a bout of scotoma (selective vision), where we end up comparing the life we have, for the “life we deserve” (the actual wording for a recent advertised e-course).
My favorite part of my recent France trip was visiting family run wineries, spending time with the owner / wine-maker, with the permission to linger, sensing a comfort grounded in story and connection. Said one (when we asked him about being a small winery–in a world where big is everything), “I am glad. I am not alone. I work with family.” (Referring to his son and three daughters.)
And it makes me wonder about this mental sleight of hand we use, thinking about the life we are destined for, as somehow different (or better) from the life we now we live.
There is a Tibetan story about an earnest young man seeking enlightenment. (Earnest people must think this quite unfair–since they play a central role in most parables and stories about enlightenment.)
A famous sage passes through the man’s village. The man asks the sage to teach him the art of meditation. The sage agrees. He tells the man, “Withdraw from the world. Mediate every day in the specific way I will teach you. Do not waver and you will attain enlightenment.”
The earnest man follows the sage’s instructions to the letter. Time passes — and no enlightenment. Two years, five, ten, twenty pass.
It happens that the sage once again passes through the man’s village. The man seeks him out, grumbling that despite his best intentions and devotion and diligent efforts, he does not achieve enlightenment. “Why?”
The sage asks, “What type of meditation did I teach you?”
The man tells him.
The sage says, “Oh, what a terrible mistake I made! That is not the right meditation for you. You should have done another kind altogether. Too bad, for now it is too late.”
Disconsolate, the man returns to his cave. Staking his life on the sage’s instructions, and now believing he is without hope, the man abandons all his wishes and efforts and need to control his road to enlightenment. He does not know what to do. So, he does what he knows best: he begins meditating. And in a short while, much to his astonishment, his confusion begins to dissolve, and his inner world comes to life. A weight falls away and he feels lighter, and regenerated. When he walks out of the cave, the sky is bluer, the snow capped mountains whiter, and the world around him more vivid.
There is no doubt that all too often, our efforts–to succeed or achieve or attain–get in the way of our living. It brings to mind my favorite Robert Capon quote, “We live life like ill-taught piano students. So inculcated with the flub that will get us in dutch, we don’t hear the music, we only play the right notes.”
I understand. I was weaned on a spirituality that predicated itself on artifice. In other words, the importance is placed upon appearance, rather that just being. (It was vital to “look spiritual.” Which begs the question, “What do spiritual people look like?” As a boy, I always thought the “spiritual people” looked as if some part of their clothing was a size too small.)
What is it we are holding on to–so rigid, so firm, white-knuckled in our determination?
At some point, we’ve got to breathe.
Without realizing it (and after the sage’s disheartening news), the man in the story “let go.”
He let go of the need to see life as a problem to be solved.
He let go of the need to have the correct answers (or experiences) for his “enlightenment.”
He let go of the need to see his spiritual life in terms of a formula.
He let go of the restraints that come from public opinion.
Abandon your masterpiece, sink into the real masterpiece. Leonard Cohen
Without realizing it, he took Leonard Cohen’s advice. He abandoned his “masterpiece”–the perception of what he needed to accomplish, or how he needed to appear, or what he needed to feel–in order to allow himself to sink down into this life, this moment, even with all of its uncertainty and insecurity.
For the first many years, meditation or prayer was a requirement or compulsion. In his emptiness, meditation and prayer was an offering of thanks, freely given, and without constraint. True spiritual enlightenment, it seems, happens when you are not trying to impress anyone, or score any points with heavenly bookkeepers.
It sounds easy doesn’t it?
But here’s the deal: My best intentions to play the right notes can fabricate an armor that keeps me from the vividness of life–whether it be to pray or meditate or notice or give or mourn or dance or play or grieve or laugh or celebrate or love… or just to walk.
I never did find a good enough synonym for the gray (although I’ll keep looking). Gladly, the sun has broken through. And there is enough warmth to persuade us that spring may arrive tomorrow. Daffodil shoots everywhere–up through the leaves and debris–help the ruse. So it’s garden time this afternoon, turning manure into the vegetable garden beds, beginning to cut back and clean some of the perennial beds. Enough work for the back to call a time out and request reprieve. I’m headed to the swing under the maple, when I look up to see the sun illuminating the red-twig dogwood shrubs, 10 foot canes glowing, a bright cranberry red. It catches my breath. And I am glad to be alive.
People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive… of the rapture of being alive. Joseph Campbell
Such power in those words. Then how moments later what I had read from Terry made so much sense to me. So perfectly connected with yesterday’s post Animals make us human. So relevant that quotation yesterday about animal happiness. This one:
Neuroscience key to animal happiness
“…research in neuroscience has been showing that emotions drive behavior, and my thirty-five years of experience working with animals have shown me that this is true. Emotions come first. You have to go back to the brain to understand animal welfare.”
Animals Make Us Human : Creating the best life for Animals
by Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson
Such a close parallel with that well-known saying about us humans: ‘we are what we think‘. How our own happiness, just as it is with our animals, has its roots in our emotions.
How letting go, how staying in the present, is so good for us. How dogs do that so perfectly.
How we humans have so much to learn from our dogs.
Trying to make sense of our place in the world – and probably failing!
Yesterday’s post, Making sense of who we are?, was built upon a recent essay from George Monbiot: A Small and Shuffling Life. It is a terrific essay, in the very best tradition of George Monbiot. I really hope you read it in yesterday’s post because today’s introspective jaunt is built on that essay. Two particular paragraphs of his essay really ‘spoke’ to me.
The opening paragraph:
Live free or die: this is the maxim of our age. But the freedoms we celebrate are particular and limited. We fetishise the freedom of business from state control; the freedom not to pay taxes; the freedom to carry guns and speak our minds and worship whom we will. But despite – in some cases because of – this respect for particular freedoms, every day the scope of our lives appears to contract.
We carry with us the psychological equipment, rich in instinct and emotion, required to navigate that world. But our survival in the modern economy requires the use of few of the mental and physical capacities we possess. Sometimes it feels like a small and shuffling life. Our humdrum, humiliating lives leave us, I believe, ecologically bored.
In that second paragraph I sense something from Mr. Monbiot that is felt by me and Jean and appears to be shared very widely. A sense that something about today’s society is broken. That the last, say fifty years, of increasing living standards, health and prosperity, albeit not universally embraced, have brought us no closer to a golden future. That, as so clearly voiced in the preceding paragraph, “… our survival in the modern economy requires the use of few of the mental and physical capacities we possess.”
My guess is that George Monbiot and Terry Hershey have never met. One might suggest that their backgrounds are as different as two people might be. Take their respective ‘About’ pages on their blogsites. Here are their closing paragraphs.
My work is more sedentary than it used to be, so I temper it with plenty of physical activity: sea kayaking, ultimate frisbee, running and some heavy duty gardening: growing my own vegetables and much of my own fruit.
Here are some of the things I love: my family and friends, salt marshes, arguments, chalk streams, Russian literature, kayaking among dolphins, diversity of all kinds, rockpools, heritage apples, woods, fishing, swimming in the sea, gazpacho, ponds and ditches, growing vegetables, insects, pruning, forgotten corners, fossils, goldfinches, etymology, Bill Hicks, ruins, Shakespeare, landscape history, palaeoecology, Gavin and Stacey and Father Ted.
Here are some of the things I try to fight: undemocratic power, corruption, deception of the public, environmental destruction, injustice, inequality and the misallocation of resources, waste, denial, the libertarianism which grants freedom to the powerful at the expense of the powerless, undisclosed interests, complacency.
Here is what I fear: other people’s cowardice.
I still see my life as a slightly unhinged adventure whose perpetuation is something of a mystery. I have no idea where it will take me, and no ambitions other than to keep doing what I do. So far it’s been gripping.
I used to ask of myself and others: what have you accomplished? Where are your credentials? What does your job and your bank account say about who you are?
Now, my questions are different:
Are there butterflies in your garden?
What are the color of loved ones’ eyes, when they are looking at you with hope?
And when was the last time your house smelled of paper-white narcissus?
Do sunsets make you smile?
When was the last time you stood in stocking feet just to stare at the rising moon?
Have you ever seen a sunflower bloom?
Does the laughter of children do your heart good?
At what angle does the sun enter your house?
Do I understand that life is full of complications, obligations and distractions? Yes. I do. My wife and I raise a teenage son. We run two businesses. So, yes, I know a bit about down-to-earth realities.
But this, too, is reality:
I love to watch the hummingbirds dance.
I love that my son likes to put on his dancing shoes.
I love to join him when we play
old-time rock and roll.
I love to stretch out on a garden bench on a
warm summer day.
I love a hot shower and drying with an expensive,
oversized cotton towel.
I love books, delight in poetry,
and find sustenance in writing.
I treasure the certainty that grace
gives us all many second chances.
I value the times I can simplify life by letting go of my need to validate my humanity through productivity.
And I love to lose track of time in a garden.
I also know that sharing this with you – offering my practices for pausing, resources for doing less and living more, reflections in my blog —feeds me.
So I invite you, too, to join us — and together we’ll share, remind, and support each other, to “do less, live more.”
Yet, despite the differences in backgrounds, cultures and much more, to me there is a common openness, an honesty shared, and a passion for the truth.
All of which is a very long introduction to this week’s Sabbath Moment from Terry; republished in full.
Finding sanctuary and grace
January 19, 2015
Today I am sitting in a café (and bar) in Vaison-la-Romaine, in the Provence region of France, nursing my espresso. The old men of the village (actually all of them are about my age) gather. They unload, swap stories, sip pastis, and watch petanque on TV. Some read the newspaper–with stories about Charlie Hebdo and photos of “Somme Nous Charlie“–carrying reminders of hope in our fragile and broken world.
I am glad to be here. Today. In this place. There is an air of familiarity among the men, and comfort in their ritual. I am grateful for reminders and invitations to live well into a place. Not just a physical space, but a tonic and sanctuary to the spirit. The invitation is a permission to settle down. (In the words of Jesus, “to come away and rest awhile.”) A sanctuary is a place that restores us, replenishes us, nourishes us. In this renewal, we are reminded, once again, of what really is important.
I agree that it is easy to sentimentalize. But living into the moment doesn’t smooth the edges of our life. It allows us to pay attention. I like to think that we can name the edges, to welcome and invite them into the sanctuary.
Outside a bicycle club gathers in the village center parking lot, ready for their weekend excursion. Their spirit is eager, their uniform bearing homage to their journey to the top of Mont Ventoux.
Sitting in the café, my thoughts meander, with no agenda or responsibilities to tether them. So I let them wander, a gift to embrace. But my reverie is interrupted with worry … I need a Sabbath Moment. And I don’t have a clue (I tell myself). It’s not easy on vacation. Especially without wi-fi.
I am on my annual trip to Europe with my good friend Bill McNabb to taste wine. He’s a wine writer (and pastor) in the San Francisco area. But mostly, he’s a friend. I’m his aide-de-camp and connoisseur.
We travel to wine regions and are blessed to taste beverages that we cannot afford, but offer us a glimpse of heaven.
Yes I’m biased. But then wine is not a beverage here; it is an experience. Your choice is to savor and take delight.
We visited wineries harvesting grapes from vines 100 years old. These are businesses passed down through the generations, grandfather to father to son (and now thankfully, often to daughter). A world where terroir is king, the personality of the soil. Meaning that this wine is born of a place, a very specific place. Here in the Rhone Valley, I’m honored to be in the company of crafts people. Like being with a great gardener. The men and women I met coddle their vines–they call them trees–lovingly.
Unlike Peter Mayle, I don’t have “A Year in Provence.” I only have a few days. But that’ll do… It is my first visit and I’m sure won’t be my last.
We’re in our gite–a rural rental property in France–we relish the evening light, a layer of bruised purple (pourple) above the slopes in Provence (Cotes du Rhone). Below the hills, vineyards roll through the landscape, the vines–still in winter and pruned–pose as menorah renderings in the dusk light.
Yes, this scene is a tonic. There is something about these moments that carry significance, because they are reminders, and they are sacraments. Partial, yes, but containing the full sustenance of grace.
And I think of the question a friend asks me, “What holds you?”
In other words… What sustains you, and carries you gently through your days?
Ryoken, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut, only to discover there was nothing in it to steal. Ryoken returned and caught him in the act.
“You may have come a long way to visit me,” he told the disillusioned prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.”
The thief was bewildered. But he took the clothes and slunk away.
Ryoken sat naked, watching the moon, “Poor fellow,” he mused. “I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon.”
Sometimes I feel like that thief. Standing–in my own home, or in front of an audience, or in a crowd, or all alone–I am looking for something, for whatever ails me or creates a hole or emptiness; but, like that thief, not finding it. “What am I missing?” I ask myself. What am I wanting, yearning for, that I find myself in such a pell-mell-hurry or weighted down… hoping to fix it, or find it, or mend it. So I run and race and call on God, or the sky, or roll the dice with some prayer from my childhood. This will solve it, I tell myself. But the more I push, the more I ask, the more I beseech, the further I move from the center.
Here’s the deal: In my state of distraction, I cannot see that the core of my identity, the place where I stand in this moment (even at times without clarity, or stability, or faith, or answers)… I stand smack dab in the center of an awesome and illogical grace. Smack dab in the center of the sacred present.
If I do have the permission to see that place, I know that I am grounded.
I am now able to breathe in
and rest in this acceptance.
Last night, above the slopes to the south, a slivered crescent moon rests, the sky a cobalt blue canvas. It is visceral, arresting, piercing. And for whatever reason, reassuring. This snapshot is imprinted, and I know in my heart that it is in some way essential, indispensable. I accept this gift of the moon, even though I don’t yet know why.
I don’t know what to tell you to do, exactly. Only that I too, wish I could give you the gift of that crescent moon.
I know this for certain: when we do not pay tribute, we are like the thief in the Zen story–without even knowing it–and we settle for less. So much less. So it is not just a question of what hold us, but of what holds us back… from being wholehearted, true to our self, fully alive, unafraid of uncertainty, and grateful for the gift of this moment.
Lord knows we look for ways to bottle it and sell it, when I reckon we should just get out of the way.
Our gite sits squarely in a vineyard and a working farm. A perfect setting to replenish. For years I’ve been writing about sanctuary and the need for restoration. And I’m my own worst enemy. There’s not a week that goes by that a Sabbath Moment friend doesn’t remind me to follow my own advice to pause… and let my soul catch up with my body. Gladly, this week I did.
My penultimate reflection to today’s post is with a short, six-minute video from Professor Dan Gilbert. The video is entitled: The psychology of your future self. I hope you see it as offering a calming perspective to two days of inner psychological ramblings!
Published on Jun 3, 2014
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” Dan Gilbert shares recent research on a phenomenon he calls the “end of history illusion,” where we somehow imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Hint: that’s not the case.
My final reflection is the lesson that dogs teach us; that one about living in the present.
Perhaps the fundamental reason why I am so hooked on this world of blogging is because there are always wonderful surprises. What do I mean by this?
Yesterday’s post, Sometimes the world seems very strange was a rather bleak affair. I had been affected by, and reported, a couple of items read elsewhere that seemed to me, in a rather dark and miserable way, to highlight what is wrong with our so-called modern society. Perhaps, no more clearly expressed than in my reply to a comment left by Sue Dreamwalker.
Here is what Sue said, and how I replied.
I agree with what Alex has to say… The super rich live in a totally different reality… Have no clues on the real structure of how their wealth is being created often on the backs of the poor. Who are squeezed ever tighter at every conceivable way of extracting more in the form of taxes, both on incomes and on everything else..
Change will come but what frightens you Paul is that when it does come it will come swiftly.. We have seen the social unrest in other nations… What is happening in many countries is the injustices and discriminations which are getting ordinary peoples backs up..
Stupid Gun Laws to teach children how to handle weapons..
Yes Paul sometimes the world is very Strange.. and also Very Stupid!..
Thank you and wishing you and Jean a lovely week
Sue, a wonderful reply from you. Thank you. What I find so strange is this. That here I am, turned 70-years-old, having enjoyed a fabulously interesting life, full of variety and opportunities. That, to some small degree, I believe I have a better, albeit still partial, sense of how we humans tick than, say, 20 years ago. How our lives fundamentally revolve around our relationships, with the most important one being our relationship with ourself and, flowing from that, some understanding of who we are!
Yet, (and you knew there was a ‘yet’ coming, didn’t you!) beyond the very small world of loved ones, family and close friends (and I count blogging friends in that last category) the world around me becomes more strange, more remote, more alien almost on a week-by-week basis.
I was born in the middle of London six months to the day of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Those first six months would have been unrecognisable to the later world I grew up in, and got to know. My fear is that I will spend the last six months of my life in a world that is similarly unrecognisable from the world I thought I knew.
Thank my lucky stars for a wonderful, loving woman in my life and for so many fabulous doggie friends.
Sue, apologies, I went on a tad – nay, a tad and a half!
Fondest love to you and your Hubby.
I think that makes it pretty clear what my mood was like yesterday morning.
Jean and I were out from 9am until 12:30 pm and it was coming up to 3pm when I sat down in front of my PC. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue as to what to write and still felt pretty miserable about the ‘strange world’.
However, one of the first things that I saw in my ‘in-box’ was the weekly email from the Rev. Terry Hershey. Here is how his email opened up:
Live deeply and deliberately
January 12, 2015
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” Pema Chodron
“On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love,
and on his left hand was the word fear,
And in which hand he held his fate was never clear.”
Bruce Springsteen: “Cautious Man“
“To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” Wow! Did that ‘speak’ to me or what!
Then the very next item in my ‘in-box’ was a note that “Deaf Duke is now following Learning from Dogs“. I try and make it across to every new follower of this blog and thank them for their support. Seems the least I should do.
So it was with ‘Deaf Duke’. But I have to quietly admit that before clicking on the link I found myself wondering just what Deaf Duke was.
Deaf Duke is an American Bulldog mix that my boyfriend (Tyler) and I got just after the Fourth of July this year. He was only 6.5 weeks old when we got him so he had some issues to begin with. When he was about 6 months old we decided to take him to a trainer, we thought he was a bad dog because he would never listen to us, we soon found out that he was becoming deaf. He wasn’t a bad dog he just couldn’t hear us. Our lives changed a lot from that moment on. Everyone says that training a deaf dog is no harder than training a dog that can hear, which is true on so many levels but they never talk about how difficult it can be for the owners who are primarily vocal beings. This blog is about the upbringing and stories about Duke and his life.
Here’s a post from Deaf Duke from last December.
When we got Duke at 6.5 weeks old he was very under weight. Finding out that he was deaf could explain why he was. Deaf dogs generally don’t wake up for feedings because they cannot hear when the other puppies in the litter are eating. Duke is now a healthy and happy 7 month old boy learning just like his parents are to train him and us.
So thank you Terry, and thank you Duke and your Mum and Dad, for reminding me that life is utterly and whole-heartedly what we make of it!
Onwards and upwards!
Two very different expressions of hope and sense about the present era of change.
First off, up until yesterday morning at 6am, I had completely different ideas for today’s post. But sitting up in bed yesterday morning reading my emails, I saw there was an email from Jon Lavin that included a link to this: Hope for the New Year: some thoughts on emergence, evolution, freedom, love and choice, by Bronwen Rees. Dr. Rees describes herself, as:
Bronwen is a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist with nine years experience and a practice in Cambridge, Suffolk and Hungary. She is trained in the Karuna Institute in Devon in core process psychotherapy, which was the first mindfulness-based therapy in the UK. She adds to this her unique understanding of western and eastern spiritual traditions, combined with findings in new science – to find ways of helping individuals align with their true destiny. She runs retreats and workshops and group work at different times of the year.
I was vaguely aware of the name. Perhaps unsurprisingly as I was familiar with the work of the Karuna Institute at their beautiful location at Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Dartmoor, Devon, some eighteen miles from where I used to live in Harberton, Devon.
Anyway, back to the theme of today’s post. Back to Jon Lavin’s email with the link. This is how that essay from Dr. Rees opened:
by Bronwen Rees on January 1, 2015
In the face of the on-going and now undeniable social, economic, environmental and political crises, there are plenty of seeds of ‘emergence’ that point to a new way forward. These are flowering in the area of sustainability, spirituality, and the reworking of ancient systems of wisdom. They point to a new way of being and relating where, it is implied, one can manifest at will one’s desires.
Whilst there is a distinct truth in much of this, and many examples where this can obviously work (vis the outpouring of new technological companies providing ever more zany products), they are very early developments fostering to individual satisfaction rather than being consciously channeled into the benefits of the collective. The scale of change in terms of consciousness has largely not yet been realized. One of the main reasons for this is the as yet imbalance in the relationship between the collective and the individual, and the lack of a conscious ethical foundation.
I sort of understood the central message but the words were getting in the way. Take this later paragraph, for instance:
Humanity is at a bifurcation point – a point of irreversible change – where conscious choice determines the future that is created. Neo-Darwinian theorists would argue that this is merely a point of survival, and given the current scientific data about the material conditions – peak oil, energy, economic chaos, severe mental health issues, the conditions would suggest that we are as a species heading for disaster. Balanced between over-population and yet greater and greater individualization with more and more apparent choice – how can the two perspectives be reconciled on this seemingly increasingly small planet?
Indeed, my email reply to Jon, having struggled through the full essay said: “Good day to you, Jon, Yes, what a fascinating essay albeit written in a manner that makes it a very tough read! Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the good Dr. is spot on in her analysis.”
The very next item opened in my email inbox was notification of a new post from Sue Dreamwalker: My Dream ∼ Translated I just had to share. Let me, in turn, share Sue’s post with you; with her kind permission, I should add.
My Dream ∼ Translated I just had to share
“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.” ― Ludwig van Beethoven
On Jan 3rd I had a Dream.. Please click on the music video below so you can get a sense of some of my experience.. .. Sunday I tried to capture some of the images I had in the dream… So I painted.. But I saw Oh so so much more………
In the beginning of the dream.. She was Me.. As I began to sing.. but then I became the observer.. This has to be the best Dream experience ever… .. So I had to share.. I heard the Music… Music like I have never heard upon this earth… the video music is about as close as I can get to that feeling of being exalted to a higher place.. I am still so excited I cannot tell you the Love I felt within this experience.. If this is the beginning of 2015.. Whoooooh… Let it roll……..
“She stood in a gown that was a rich golden brown. Its fabric shimmered catching the light that reflected from the crystals of natural quartz that sprang up around her. The gown was long and flowing not only did it reach the floor, but it spiralled out around her in a never ending dance as it became one with the sphere of the Earth.
She took a deep breath; here she stood in the centre of the globe called Gaia.
Her hair was so long the wind picked it up to billow out behind her in long tresses. Birds flew in and amongst her strands of hair, Insects and butterflies danced within making it their home.
With breath still poised, she raised her arms like a conductor of an orchestra. She expanded her lungs and she began to Sing…. Her Soprano voice was pure. The moment her voice vibration raised higher the spiral of her gown buried deeper into the Earth. The Grass became part of her gown. Trees sprang forth from the folds of it swaying to her melody of love; Flowers opened their blooms, each petal giving separate notes in a wonderful exotic dance of harmonic ripples.. Love notes rippled like the keys of the piano. The buds on the trees open their leaves their notes sounded deeper like a million cello’s. Birds sang their flute like songs and the butterflies wings danced lighter than bell chimes.
Water trickled into streams, clear and sparking like the strings of the violin.. They swelled in a crescendo in waves that beat the rocks crashing in like kettle drums smashing like symbols into glistening spray..
The Whales joined in her song a mournful lament, while deep in the jungle the elephants gave a low rumble to acknowledge they had heard.. The roar of the Big Cats were heard above the cries of the orangutan’s
As the Thunderous machines of man cut swaths leaving deep scars that screeched like vultures circling over head, to give way to silence………. as they circled over the corpses of everything left dying in its wake..
She paused……………. ready to continue…….. Her arms raised high above her head, she Sang.. her voice becoming a crescendo with the Earth, her breath became the Spiral.. Her Hair became the Wind.. The notes she sang sprang forth from her mouth forming hearts and stars.. Every living creature now joined in her song…
She knew her Song of love was being joined by so many more.. She was ONE with ALL.. She was part of our Earth Mother..”
I hope you enjoyed reading about this Dream and I hope you enjoyed listening to the wonderful music of the PianoGuys
See you all very soon…
In a very strange way, I read the same messages from Dr. Rees and from Sue but presented in such opposite ways: one way so complex and one way to clear. So strongly reinforced by their respective closing words. Here’s Dr. Rees:
Whilst there is real potential for the expansion of consciousness, this does not by any means suggest that this will arise without individual effort and struggle. All the enlightened masters of the past needed to move through this gateway – the difference between then and now is that the conditions are far riper for more individuals to undergo this – and indeed can be seen as a biological necessity for the survival of the human species. Thus as individuals, we cannot avoid this, but what we can do, and indeed as a biological and spiritual imperative, we can support one another and help organize ourselves in dedication of this purpose, in a mutual recognition of each individual uniqueness yet shared destiny.
Here are Sue’s closing words: “She knew her Song of love was being joined by so many more.. She was ONE with ALL.. She was part of our Earth Mother..”
However, there is one uniting theme I read from both of them: Hope!
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
In a poignant way, it seems appropriate to feature that quote from Maya Angelou in opening today’s post simply because this wonderful, spiritual woman died earlier on this year; on the 28th May, 2014.
Born in 1928 in St Louis, MO, Maya was, “… an American author, poet, dancer, actress and singer. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years.” (Wikipedia)
In case you are wondering why this post is reflective on life, and the inevitability of death, it is simply because in thirty-minutes time, the last (draft) chapter of ‘the book’ is being published in this place, and I was looking for something to ‘set the tone’, as it were. That last chapter is entitled: And show us the way to embrace death, and the companion to: How the dog offers us a way into our own soul, that was published yesterday.
To be precise, I had in mind two elements in setting the tone. The first being that powerful quotation that is today’s sub-heading and the second being the reposting of a recent item from Val Boyco.
As is the way in this interconnected world of blogging, I hadn’t previously heard of Val Boyco until she signed up to follow my humble scribblings in this place. Naturally, I went across to her blogsite, Find Your Middle Ground, and very quickly signed up to follow her, in return. That’s how I came to see ‘All Things Change‘; reposted here with Val’s very kind permission.
All Things Change
All things arise
And pass away.
This is their nature.
When you know this …
…you become still.
It is easy.
The Ashtavakra Gita
We spend so much time and energy avoiding the way life actually unfolds, and most of the time we are unaware that we are doing this.
We have created these habits over time to avoid facing the uncomfortable feelings that are a part of life.
When we pause and create spaciousness, the resistance begins to dissipate and our inner consciousness grows.
Each time we make space, trust grows.
The more we trust, the more we grow beyond our conditioning and habits and create more space.
With space, life flows freely.
Taking time to connect inwards will not save your life, but may save you from a life of struggle and discontent.
I’m going to close today’s post with a wonderful quote from Sharon Salzberg, taken from her book: Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation. It seems as relevant and as powerful as that opening quote from Maya Angelou.
It is never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn’t depend on how long it has been running; a shift in perspective doesn’t depend on how long you’ve held on to the old view.
May we all turn on the lights in ourselves so that we may better leave a light burning in the hearts and minds of others.
For our lives are for real!